"What do you do if a story doesn't work at the table read?"
"If it's a comedy, first you have to determine whether it was performance or the material. After a bit of experience, you can sense the difference. If you believe it's the material, then you go back to the writers' room, figure out what went wrong. Usually it's the story, it's not being told truthfully either out of a sense of desperation to get it done or a stubborn show runner who wants something to work so badly they can't see the forest for the trees. You back up, look at where the story starts to sound false, or a character's attitude sounds false and ask what is another direction we can go in, pitch out the story and start your rewrite - either splitting up scenes, or the showrunner may take the rewrite, or a combination of those.
"If it's a one hour drama, ideally you shouldn't even be in this position if you're an experienced writer. But if you do find yourself there, again, back up, ask which characters are acting out of character, where did the truth and plausibility in the story take a right turn, and reconstruct."
"How do you keep track of stories that are pitched in the room?"
Keeping Stories Straight
"Every show runs things differently. Most I've worked on have the season's story ideas on index cards on the wall, as a well to draw from, should we need it. Then there is a huge wall-sized chart for the season. Across the top is each episode number, and sometimes down the side are the character names. You write each storyline in under each episode and if you have characters running down the side, you put the story in their slot. This board is a living thing, changing all the time as the season develops and stories reveal themselves. There is a lot of moving of the stories into different slots, then standing back and looking how the season is unfolding."
Twas a pleasure meeting you at Neely's class. Two questions for you.
1) Does having a name that so closely resembles the word "mirken" contribute in any way to your comedic genius?
2) What are the movies that have most influenced / inspired your surrealist sensibilities?
1) No it has not helped my comedy in any way but it has contributed enormously to my wealth. My family still sells the item to which you refer and pulls in about $500 million a year. Check out our website or just go to Amazon.com! (Actually a free one is on its way to you, Ross)
2) There aren't a lot of surreal movies that come to mind. Most of the surreal - flexible reality thinking - was fairly natural to me. To survive in this world, I needed to bend and twist it around in my mind at a fairly young age. Monty Python (the TV show) was a huge influence in surreal da-daesque thinking and writing. The Python moves, brilliant as they were, could not be quite as free-form stream of consciousness as the TV show. The very early Woody Allen movies ("Bananas"; "Take The Money and Run") had quite a lot of absurdest moments that I loved. But the biggest and most continuous surreal influence would have to be the inner workings of the United States government. Am I right, people?
"How do you keep the voice of the characters consistent throughout the course of the series so that different writers can contribute their own unique talent but stay within a consistent style that you come to expect from each character. I'm a big fan of the early to mid 90's run where the episodes did not seem to be as driven by pop culture/news of the week references."
"If you work as a writer on an established TV series, part of the talent you need is the ability to write in the (hopefully) distinctive voices of each of the characters while at the same time organically moving them forward into new areas of experience, discovery and revelation. Over the years, the Simpsons has had several showrunners each with somewhat different styles, interests and senses of humor. Some audience members will naturally like certain styles better than others. I wish there was some kind of public forum where viewers could discuss and or complain about these differences but I am not aware of one, nor do I believe such a "world wide web" would be technologically feasible. But you are correct about one thing, my Simpsons episodes were clearly, by far, the best ever!"